Tulsi

for u.s. president

~

Behold

Laka

Standing

On

The

 Mountain

~

     With eyes closed he grew numb under the cold shower in the TAMC barracks, and pretended he was standing under an icy waterfall in the mountains.  The hot water was not working this Saturday morning ~ again.

     With a towel tied around his waist he was stepping across the hallway to his cave-like room when Pvt. 1 Tom Weasel stopped him and said, “Wanna smoke a joint, Duty?”

     “No no no no,” replied PFC Donald Duty, invigorated from the cold shower.  “I don’t smoke it no mo’.”

     “Well, how you gonna be mellow if you don’t smoke it no mo’?” said Weasel.

     “I chant,” said Duty ~ and he locked himself up in his room.  He put on some clothes, opened the curtain, twirled open the window, sat down in front of a most beautiful sky and let the trade winds kiss his cheek.  Sure enough, he began to chant:

     “Ku ana ‘o Laka i ka mauna,

     Noho ana ‘o Laka i ke po ‘o oka ‘ohu.

     ‘O Laka kumu hula,

     Nana i ‘a ‘eka waokele…”

     Outside, a misty cloud white and purple upon the hilltop, gently tumbled forward.  The cloud transformed into a pretty face with depthless eyes and a supple body with graceful moves.  It was obvious ~ Laka, the hula goddess, had arrived ~ and was dancing in the sky!

     From the colorful lei hanging from her neck and tossing to and fro, there fell a flower.  It landed on the window pane in front of Duty.  “Mahalo, my beloved,” said Duty.

     He reached for the flower.  As soon as he touched it, the flower turned into a diving mask and snorkel.  Duty whispered to the suddenly clear blue sky, “Ah, I know what I’m going to do today!”

     With swimming trunks rolled up in a towel and Laka’s gift in his hand, Duty darted out of the barracks.  Sp4 Joe Honor and Sp4 John Country were about to drive away in Country’s automobile.  Duty flagged them down.

     “What’s up?” said Duty.

     “We’re going snorkeling!” replied Honor and Country in baritoned chorus.

     “Oh, can I go?  Oh, please, guys, please!”

     “Hop in,” smirked Country.

     In a cove about a half mile on the other side of Waimea Falls, located on the North Shore, the three off-duty TAMC soldiers floated around above another world ~ Fish World ~ and occasionally dove deeply into it ~ all day long.  The surface of the sea was smooth as glass and you could see forever ~ even underwater.  The many colored fishes were sassy as could be.

     Later back at the barracks, played out and cleansed of worry, Duty stepped around two MPs and a drug detection dog ~ German Shepherd type ~ in the hallway.  The dog was howling in front of Weasel’s barracks-room door.

~

https://www.tulsi2020.com

~

from

her

secret agent

from

DUTY WORLD

~

afghan rivals to meet in bid for peace

~~~

news agencies

aljazeera

1 Jul 2019

~~~

Rival Afghans will meet starting on Sunday in Qatar, officials said, in a fresh attempt to make political headway as the United States seeks a peace deal with the Taliban within three months.

The international efforts to bring warring Afghan sides to the negotiating table comes as the Taliban, which has been fighting the West-backed Kabul government, killed 16 in the latest attack in the capital.

The US special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been holding a seventh round of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, aimed at bringing the 18-year-old war to an end.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump said in an interview that he wants to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, but will leave a strong intelligence presence in the country to counter what he termed the “Harvard of terrorists.”

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. A previous attempt to bring the armed group together with government officials in Doha collapsed in April in a dispute over attendees.

Germany, a key player in international support for the post-Taliban government, and Qatar, which maintains contacts with the armed group, said that they jointly extended invitations for a dialogue in Doha on Sunday and Monday.

‘Direct engagement between Afghans’

The Afghans “will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing,” Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in a statement released on Monday by the US.

“Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunity for progress towards peace,” he said.

“An essential component of any process leading to this objective will be direct engagement between Afghans,” he said.

But the Taliban spokesman insisted that they would not to talk to the Kabul government.

The meeting comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a previously unannounced visit last week to Kabul where he voiced hope for a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1.”

The ambitious time frame would allow a deal before Afghanistan holds elections in September, which Western officials fear could inject a new dose of instability.

Trump wants to pull all US troops from Afghanistan, believing that the US’s longest war – launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks – no longer makes military or financial sense.

But he said the US will “be leaving very strong intelligence, far more than you would normally think,” in an interview with the Fox New Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“It just seems to be a lab for terrorists … I call it the Harvard of terrorists,” Trump said.

The Taliban have refused to halt their violence, believing that they have an upper hand as the US is eager to leave.

On Monday, at least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded – including 50 children – after the Taliban hit the defence ministry with a powerful bomb.

Gunmen then stormed a nearby building, triggering a gun battle with special forces. Most of the injured children were hurt by flying glass, officials said.

‘Seeking consensus’

Save the Children branded the attack “utterly deplorable,” warning that “children’s smaller bodies sustain more serious injuries than adults” and that the trauma of such attacks can stay with them for years.

Washington condemned the “brazen” and “callous” attack, but continued the seventh round of talks with the Taliban in Doha that started on Saturday.

“Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government,” tweeted Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman of the Taliban’s office in Qatar.

Under a peace deal, the US plans to pull its roughly 14,000 troops from Afghanistan.

In return, the Taliban would provide assurances that they would never allow their territory to be a base for foreign attacks – the primary reason for the US invasion in 2001.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator with the Taliban, said that dialogue among Afghans was an essential part of a peace deal.

“Mutual acceptance, seeking consensus, and agreeing to resolve political differences without force is what is needed to learn from the tragedy of the last 40 years,” Khalilzad said, referring to Afghanistan’s nearly incessant conflict since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

“I wish participants success,” he tweeted.

~~~

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/taliban-afghan-rivals-set-meet-fresh-bid-peace-190702021725938.html

~~~

a synopsis of the u.s./taliban peace talks

~~~

by Shereena Qazi

Aljazeera

29 June 2019

~~~

United States officials and Taliban representatives are meeting in Qatar’s capital for a seventh time since October in a bid to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The latest round of direct talks, which got under way in Doha on Saturday, is focused on four key issues: a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow fighters to use Afghanistan to launch attacks outside the country, the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.

The Taliban government was overthrown in 2001 by a US-led military coalition for sheltering al-Qaeda, the group blamed for the 9/11 attacks in the US.

The Afghan government, however, is not involved in the talks as the Taliban has refused to negotiate with it, deeming it illegitimate and a “puppet” of the US.

Following the end of the sixth round of negotiations with the Taliban in May, the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that “faster progress” was needed as “the conflict rages” and “innocent people die”.

But analysts say peace has never been closer in Afghanistan since the talks between the US and the Taliban began.

Separately, three meetings have been held since 2017 in Moscow between the Taliban and senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai.

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a grand council in Kabul with politicians and tribal, ethnic and religious leaders to discuss the talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha.

But as these initiatives remain in the spotlight, deep divisions among the Afghan government and politicians complicate efforts to establish peace in Afghanistan.

What has been agreed to so far in US-Taliban talks?

Khalilzad, an Afghan-American diplomat who served as US ambassador to the United Nations (2007-2009), Iraq (2005-2007) and Afghanistan (2003-2005), is leading the US side in the Doha talks.

The Taliban is represented by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the group’s office chief, and cofounder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released in October last year from a Pakistani prison.

The Taliban has long demanded the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which has been a sticking point in the meetings between the US and the group in Doha.

In previous rounds of talks, the two sides had agreed on a “draft framework” that included the withdrawal of US troops, a discussion on Taliban’s commitment that the Afghan territory would not be used by international “terror” groups, and that a ceasefire would be implemented across the country.

But the Taliban insists it will not commit to any of these things until the US announces a withdrawal timeline.

The sixth round of talks last month ended with “some progress” on a draft agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops, according to a Taliban official.

Khalilzad said at the time the talks with the Taliban on ending Afghanistan’s war were making slow but steady progress, while signalling a growing frustration with deadly attacks in the country.

“We made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war. We are getting into the nitty-gritty. The devil is always in the details,” Khalilzad said.

“However, the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die. We need more and faster progress. Our proposal for all sides to reduce violence also remains on the table.”

In June, both sides said there was an understanding on the withdrawal but the details, including a timeline, had not been worked out yet.

This week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a trip to Kabul that the US was close to wrapping up the draft agreement with the Taliban on counterterrorism. He hoped a peace agreement could be reached by Sept 1.

Why is the Afghan government excluded?

The Taliban has long refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which has repeatedly invited the group for talks with no success.

Washington also initially tried to get the Taliban to agree to talking with Kabul. When the Taliban refused to budge, the US was left with no option but to enter into the talks.

The group has given several reasons on why it is not willing to talk to the Afghan government.

Since the Taliban was overthrown by the US-led military intervention in 2001, the Taliban maintains that the country has been occupied by foreign forces.

It says the Kabul government has no real power and considers it a “puppet regime”. The group says any engagement with the government would grant it legitimacy.

In June, Ghani decreed the formation of a peace ministry, headed by his top aide, Abdul Salam Rahimi, to encourage direct talks with the Taliban.

What can cause US-Taliban talks to collapse?

Dawood Azami, an academic and journalist who works as a multimedia editor at BBC World Service in London, said a peace deal could only be possible when both parties were flexible and willing to make concessions.

“The lack of consensus in Kabul, the failure of the Afghan government and the non-Taliban Afghans in general, to agree on the appointment of an inclusive and authoritative negotiating team able to negotiate with the Taliban will prove a major challenge and could result in a breakdown,” he said.

“I think the next phase of talks among the Afghans [generally termed as intra-Afghan dialogue] will prove more challenging than the first [US-Taliban talks]”.

Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat and ex-UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said if any peace deal was to happen, there would be several hurdles before it was implemented, which he felt was a sign of its possible collapse.

“The deal-breakers are the possibility of exceptionally violent and gruesome Taliban attacks; the refusal of Afghan government to go along; a refusal of the Tajiks and Hazaras to accept a deal [even if approved by President Ashraf Ghani]; and a Taliban belief that it can prevail militarily without a deal,” he said.

“But the biggest deal-breaker may be an inability of the Taliban negotiators to get all the factions of the Taliban to follow any peace document that is signed.”

Galbraith said the US President Donald Trump administration’s determination to withdraw, regardless of the consequences, was probably the single most important factor in making a US-Taliban deal possible.

Why is Taliban refusing calls for ceasefire?

Intense fighting continues across the country even as the Taliban remains in talks with the US. The group now controls or holds influence over more Afghan territory than at any point since 2001.

“As the peace talks are entering an important phase, the Taliban want to maximize their leverage and speak from a position of strength at the negotiating table,” Azami said.

“In addition, the Taliban leadership is under pressure from their military commanders not to agree to a ceasefire before achieving a tangible goal.”

The armed group has also said on several occasions that there will be no ceasefire until the US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

When the loya jirga (grand council) called for an immediate ceasefire between the government and Taliban during the holy month of Ramadan, Ghani agreed to a truce provided it was not “one-sided”.

However, the Taliban rejected the call for a ceasefire, saying waging a war during Ramadan had “even more rewards”.

In an interview with Tolo News, Afghanistan’s largest private television station, Khalilzad said last month that any peace agreement with the armed group would depend on the declaration of a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the war.

“If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion it means the continuation of war, not peace,” Khalilzad said.

What is the Afghan president’s loya jirga?

Last month, the Afghan president held a loya jirga, a grand assembly which brought together more than 3,200 participants, including politicians, tribal elders and other prominent figures from across the country.

The council, which sought to hammer out a shared strategy for future negotiations with Taliban, ended with delegates demanding an “immediate and permanent” ceasefire.

The meeting, traditionally convened under extraordinary circumstances, was held in a bid to build consensus among various ethnic groups and tribal factions over restoring peace in Afghanistan.

However, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with Ghani, and Karzai, the former president, were among a number of senior figures who boycotted the gathering, accusing the president of using it for political ends ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September 28.

On its website, the Taliban said there had been progress in negotiations with the US and the loya jirga was an “obstacle for ending occupation” and was “sabotaging the authentic peace process”.

Moscow talks

In February this year, a two-day conference was held in the Russian capital between the Taliban and prominent Afghan politicians in a bid to lay down a plan for ending the war.

The meeting in Russia was the first public contact in years between the Taliban and prominent Afghans, including Karzai.

But Ghani dismissed the Moscow talks, saying those attending carried no negotiating authority.

In May, a delegation of Taliban negotiators, who met Afghan politicians in Moscow, said “decent progress” was made at talks but there was no breakthrough.

“The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan,” the Taliban’s Baradar said.

What if the peace talks collapse?

A United Nations report released earlier this year said that 2018 saw the highest number of civilians killed in Afghanistan’s war than any other year on record.

Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent from 2017 to 3,804 people killed, including 927 children, and another 7,189 people wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across Afghanistan.

In another report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in May, Afghan and international forces, including NATO, killed more civilians in the first three months of this year than the Taliban or fighters from other armed groups.

At least 305 civilians were killed by pro-government forces between January and March, 52.5 percent of all deaths in that period.

With the spike in violence, there is a growing desperation for peace among ordinary Afghans. “If the talks collapse, fighting will further intensify and the Afghan people will suffer more,” Azami said.

“The Taliban would try to increase their territorial control and put maximum pressure on the Afghan government by attempting to capture cities, including provincial capitals and taking control of major highways,” he said.

Azami said the Afghans and the rest of the world would have to deal with a “possible security vacuum in which groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL found fertile ground”.

“Increased production of drugs and the overflow of refugees would pose serious challenges not only to Afghanistan but to the whole region and rest of the world,” he said.

~~~

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/taliban-talks-peace-afghanistan-190510062940394.html

~~~

pak/afghan border fence upends lives

~~~

For generations, families on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border worked together to till the fields of wheat, corn and rice that spread across the rugged plains.

With no physical boundary between the countries, the families joined forces every year to desilt the canal that irrigated the lands. They shared not only ethnic and blood bonds, but also the harvests from the fertile soil.

But a year and a half ago, the cross-border farming came to a stop. The Pakistani army began erecting a chain-link fence topped with coils of razor wire.

Syed Gul, a Pakistani farmer who owns 20 acres that straddle both sides near the Pakistani town of Kharlachi, cannot access the Afghan side, and Pakistani soldiers have told him not even to approach the land that lies inside Pakistan because getting too close to the fence would constitute a security breach.

“The land has been made barren since the government fenced the border,” said Gul, 55.

The barrier is part of the Pakistani government’s response to long-standing criticisms that it has failed to control the movement of militants across the porous border.

Its border management plan, launched in 2017, calls for a divider along all 1,600 miles of the frontier, with backing by closed-circuit television cameras and drone footage, along with hundreds of checkpoints. The army said in January that about 560 miles of fence had been completed at a cost of about $460 million.

The region, which consists of 10,400 square miles of tribal land, was once considered a haven for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant outfits. Some 3 million civilians have been displaced there over the past decade.

The area has been relatively calm since the army launched an offensive beginning in 2014 that it said cleared out the insurgents.

Islamabad says the fencing will disrupt militants plotting terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But in an impoverished and undeveloped region, where farming and illicit cross-border trade were among the only sources of income, the fence has upended lives.

Gul’s Pashtun ethnic group has seen both sides of the border as its homeland for centuries. Pashtuns moved freely across it during the British colonial era, even after the 1893 Durand Line agreement formally demarcated the boundary.

“We never considered it a border between two countries,” Gul said. “People did not seek verbal permission from the officials patrolling the border when they needed to work in their fields on the Afghanistan side.”

Pakistanis from certain tribes living along the border once needed only a “red pass” issued by the Pakistani tribal affairs department in the city of Peshawar that allowed unlimited movement back and forth across the border. The pass was gradually withdrawn in the 1970s and 1980s, but since then most Pakistanis crossed into Afghanistan without visas.

“I got on the bus with my friends in Peshawar and went to Kabul by bus to watch Indian movies in the cinema,” recalled Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, a 65-year-old trader in Peshawar.

The fence has cut off thousands of families who share the same culture, traditions, language, religion and land. Many people in Pakistan’s tribal region sold their lands inside Afghanistan when the border management plan was introduced.

“We sold 100 acres of land in Paktika” — a border province in eastern Afghanistan — “at a throwaway price,” said Dilawar Wazir, a resident of Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal district.

Official trade between the two countries has also fallen, harming Afghanistan’s landlocked and war-battered economy. Pakistani exports to Afghanistan, which amounted to $2.6 billion in 2010-11, fell to $1.4 billion last year, according to government statistics.

Ibrahim Shinwari, a small businessman living in the Khyber tribal district, said Pakistan’s border plan has left 2,500 people jobless in the border town of Torkham, formerly a major transit terminal for goods between the two countries that was also used by U.S.-led international forces to bring supplies into Afghanistan.

Six out of nine restaurants in Torkham have closed, he said, and the daily flow of vehicles crossing in and out of Afghanistan has slowed from the thousands to the hundreds.

“No more is the place buzzing with economic activity as it once did,” Shinwari said. “All that hustle and bustle has died down into economic depression.”

Azmat Hayat, former director of the Area Study Center at the University of Peshawar, said that before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the border was ignored.

“The Durand Line is a reality because of the changing geostrategic situation in the region,” Hayat said.

Traditions are also dying, with families on either side of the border unable to celebrate festivals together or visit the houses of sick or deceased relatives on the other side to offer condolences.

“It has brought an end to family relations,” said Nadir Manan, a Pakistani who said he couldn’t attend the recent wedding of his niece in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand, called the fencing “disastrous” and said it violated more than a century’s worth of agreements between the countries to allow free movement, particularly of families with historical ties to the land.

“The government cannot stop cross-border movement of terrorists by erecting the fence,” Mohmand said. “It just cuts off families and will cause acrimony between the two countries.”

~~~

https://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-pakistan-afghanistan-border-wall-20190527-story.html

~~~

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan%E2%80%93Pakistan_barrier

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pakistan finishing border fence

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press trust of india – islamabad

business standard

january 28, 2019 (5 months ago)

~~~

The Pakistan Army has said that the fencing of a substantial portion of the over 2,600-km-long Afghan border has been completed and the rest will be finished by next year to check the movement of terrorists.

Pakistan has spent billions of rupees for putting fence on the porous border.

Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said that the fencing of the entire border will be completed next year with the cost of about Rs 70 billion, Radio Pakistan reported.

Gafoor said that of the total 2,611 km, fencing of 900 km has been completed.

He said besides fencing, the project also includes gadgets and surveillance equipment to keep strict vigilance on illicit movement from across the border.

“The fence has amply helped to check the movement of terrorists from across the border and it would further assist after completion of the project,” Ghafoor said in an interaction with a group of media during a visit to border tribal district of North Waziristan

Media representatives visited Ghulam Khan, Miranshah and other parts of North Waziristan for the first time after the military operations.

He said the fence had helped check the movement of terrorists from across the border and the situation would further improve after the completion of the project.

Giving a break-up, Gafoor said that about 1,200km of the total 2,600km border with Afghanistan was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the rest is in Balochistan province.

The work on the erection of about 1200 km chunk, the most sensitive portion out of the total 2,600km border with the war-torn country, had commenced last year.

The fence has made it difficult for terrorists to cross the border. It will stop

cross-border terrorism and uncontrolled movement of the people even if the law and order situation gets worst again in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops, The News International reported.

In December, President Donald Trump decided to pull a significant number of American troops from Afghanistan.

Earlier, briefing the media representatives at Corps Headquarters Peshawar, Commander 11 Corps Lt Gen Shaheen said after the end of war in the area, the troops are now in the process of consolidation.

He said ninety five per cent work of resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons has already been accomplished.

He said following the operation against militants, there is no “No Go Area” in the tribal region.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

~~~

https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pak-to-complete-fencing-of-2-600-km-long-afghan-border-by-next-year-119012800498_1.html

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russia wants to help too

~~~

by Rahimullah Yusufzai

Arab News

June 9, 2019

~~~

Russia hosted the second intra-Afghan meeting in less than four months as it continues to seek a role as a credible mediator for ending the Afghan conflict.

The first meeting, which brought together Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition politicians, was held in Moscow in February. It was a landmark event because the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue is considered essential for national reconciliation.

The second intra-Afghan dialogue organized on May 28-29 was a repeat of the previous one, but with a crucial difference. It was the first time Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban deputy leader and head of the movement’s political commission in Qatar, came face to face with prominent Afghan politicians, including Hamid Karzai, Hanif Atmar, Ata Mohammad Noor, Younas Qanooni and Mohammad Mohaqiq, following his release last October after spending eight years in Pakistani custody. It was also his first visit to Russia, which has used its growing contacts within the Taliban to step up its own diplomatic initiative for ending the Afghan war.

Moscow timed the intra-Afghan conference with the 100th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Russia. This is a remarkable turnaround in the relations between the two countries as the invasion of Afghanistan by the erstwhile USSR in December 1979 to prop up a struggling Afghan communist regime had fueled a fierce war of resistance until 1989.

The Taliban took home happy memories from the first intra-Afghan conference in Moscow as the joint declaration issued on the occasion endorsed major Taliban demands. It called for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan, the release of Taliban prisoners and the removal of Taliban leaders’ names from the UN Security Council blacklist.

The second intra-Afghan meeting in Moscow, however, didn’t reach any agreement, and caused disappointment as Afghan politicians unsuccessfully pushed the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire. As some delegates reported, the two sides worked on a 12-article joint statement, but disagreement about the cease-fire caused them to merely issue a short press release. 

The statement said both sides discussed important issues linked with the destiny of the Afghan people including the continuation of intra-Afghan talks, cease-fire, release of prisoners and women’s rights, among others. Without elaborating, it noted that some progress had been made on a number of issues, but no agreement was made “because reaching agreements needed more discussions.” 

So the discussions will continue in the next round of intra-Afghan talks likely to be held in Qatar. An earlier plan to convene a broader intra-Afghan conference in Qatar involving representatives of the Afghan government didn’t materialize as the Taliban objected to the large size of the delegation coming from Kabul. The Taliban also did not want the Afghan government to play the lead role in finalizing a list of 250 delegates to attend the Doha meeting. Besides, they had imposed the condition that all participants, including Afghan government officials, would participate in their personal capacity. 

Though Russia has twice managed to hold an intra-Afghan dialogue in Moscow, the process was incomplete due to the absence of the internationally recognized Afghan government. 

Despite facing isolation at home due to growing internal opposition and abroad on account of his government’s non-representation in the Taliban-US talks in Doha and intra-Afghan meetings in Moscow, President Ashraf Ghani made the point that only his elected government had the mandate to make decisions about the peace process and Afghanistan’s future. 

It cannot be kept out forever, even though the twice delayed presidential election, now due on Sept. 28, has created uncertainty about who will eventually represent the government in the peace process. 

Russia has an abiding interest in Afghanistan due to its regional proximity. As former Afghan president Karzai noted, relations between the two countries are among the oldest and most important.

Though the Taliban are officially a terrorist organization in Russia, that didn’t stop Moscow from engaging with the group and inviting its leaders to meetings in a bid to make itself relevant to the Afghan peace process. 

The US also made an effort in April to engage its rivals, Russia and China, to reach a consensus on efforts to end the Afghan conflict. But global politics and regional rivalries could pose problems as the US, Russia and China, as well as Pakistan, Iran and India, vie for influence in determining Afghanistan’s future.

~~~

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst in Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1998.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view.
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pilots complete training

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tolo news

may 18, 2019

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A group of Afghan pilots and door gunners this month completed their training for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in southern Kandahar province. 

They received their graduation certificates during a ceremony which was attended by Air Force Commander Gen. Abdul Fahim Ramin, Kandahar Air Brigade Commander Gen. Abdul Raziq Shirzai as well as foreign partners, trainers and officers.
 
The majority of the 11 pilots had successfully completed a UH-60 Aircraft Qualification Training in a two-month course and then transited to a Mission Qualification Course at Kandahar, according to a report on Resolute Support website.  

Many of them already had previous experience with Mi-17 helicopters. Trainings were provided by American contract instructors and overseen and managed by advisors from various Resolute Support member states. 

They comprise currently of a mix of US Army, US Air Force, Australian Army and Swedish Air Force. Those same coalition advisors fly with and instruct the Afghan Air Force crews on mission tactics after they graduate from training.
 
The NATO-led Resolute Support mission remains committed to build-up a powerful Afghan Air force, the report says. “Thus we protect our homelands. Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for terrorists,” reads the report.

~~~

https://www.tolonews.com/index.php/afghanistan/11-afghan-pilots-complete-training-black-hawk-helicopters

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pentagon wants to help

~~~

by ABC News Radio

May 17, 2019

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(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon is requesting the ability to provide lodging and transportation to insurgent groups in Afghanistan that are looking to implement local ceasefires with the Afghan government, the Pentagon said recently.

The decision to request the authority came after a largely successful ceasefire was implemented between the Taliban and Afghan government last summer.

“Following the June 2018 ceasefire in Afghanistan, the Commander of U.S. Forces–Afghanistan requested the authority to use funds to facilitate meetings between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to implement local ceasefires in order to be poised to take advantage of further opportunities to reduce levels of violence in the country should such opportunities present themselves,” Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told ABC News.

The funds could go to lodging and transportation for militants if that was required to get all parties to the negotiating table “in areas that are difficult to access otherwise,” Rebarich said, adding that no U.S. military vehicles or aircraft would be used.

No Pentagon funds have been used for such a purpose. Instead, the Pentagon made the request in anticipation of possible scenarios in the future, according to Rebarich.

The acknowledgement by the Pentagon follows an apparent miscommunication with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which appeared to interpret the request as related to the ongoing U.S.-Taliban reconciliation efforts led by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

In response to the perceived request from the Pentagon, the committee included language in its proposed defense spending bill released this week that states, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay the expenses of any member of the Taliban to participate in any meeting that does not include the participation of members of the Government of Afghanistan or that restricts the participation of women” — two criticisms of the U.S.-Taliban negotiations that are not relevant to local ceasefire discussions between the Afghan government and insurgent groups.

Still, the miscommunication highlights the multiple tracks that the U.S. is pursuing to bring about a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Taliban representatives concluded the sixth and latest round of peace talks in Qatar earlier this month, which a Taliban spokesperson called “positive in total.”

Khalilzad tweeted that the two sides “made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war,” but added that “the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die.”

At the same time those talks were concluding, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S. non-profit organization in Kabul that killed at least nine people. Meanwhile, seven U.S. service members have been killed in combat-related events in Afghanistan in 2019.

“A key priority for the administration is to end the war in Afghanistan through a negotiated peace settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the U.S. is working to help facilitate such a settlement,” Rebarich said. “The United States also supports local peace initiatives between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to cease hostilities against the Afghan Government and coalition forces.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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http://kwbe.com/abc_world/pentagon-wants-to-help-afghan-insurgents-willing-to-enter-ceasefire-abcid36184979

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u.s.-taliban talks resume

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afghanistan times

may 6, 2019

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KABUL: Peace negotiation between US and Taliban members have
entered to its sixth round in Doha of Qatar with four conservative days of
talks ended Sunday; the talks did not hold on Monday on the account of the
first day of Ramadan. The talks will resume today (Tuesday), as fresh spate of
violence grips the country in different fronts including the recent attack on
police headquarters in Pule-e-Khumir city of northern Baghlan province on Sunday
afternoon.

Taliban Qatar office spokesman Sohail Shaheen on his twitter
account said that due to holiday on the first Ramadan their talks were
suspended for a day. He said the talks would resume on Tuesday.

Taking advantage of the break, Khalilzad flew to India to
discuss the Afghan peace process with Indian officials, Pajhwok Afghan News
reported.

Shaheen said in the ongoing round they would try to reach an
agreement on a timeline for withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and
the war on terrorism. He said an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces
was essential before discussing other issues.

Earlier, Khalilzad had also said they were inching closer to
an agreement on the two topics, but added nothing would be agreed until all
topics were agreed upon.

Peace talks between U.S. negotiators and Taliban
representatives in Doha, Qatar, have been interrupted to mark the beginning of
Ramadan.

Shaheen told a foreign news agency late Sunday that talks
hit an impasse over when foreign forces would depart Afghanistan.

Washington is demanding that militants establish security
guarantees, a cease-fire, and make other commitments including an
“intra-Afghan” dialogue with the Kabul government and other Afghan
representatives before agreeing to any withdrawal.

The Taliban have said they would not take any of these steps
until the United States announces a withdrawal timeline.

‘Currently, the negotiations are in a good phase and they
are moving in the right direction,’ said Assadullah Zahiri, a spokesman for High
Peace Council, a body which conducts peace efforts in country-level under the
Afghan government.

Sources familiar with Doha talks said the gap is narrowing
between the US delegation and the Taliban members on issues around foreign
forces withdrawal and counterterrorism assurances. The sources said the two
sides have managed to overcome the ‘stalemate’ on a timeline for troop
withdrawal at this stage.

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http://www.afghanistantimes.af/us-taliban-talks-to-resume-monday

http://www.afghanistantimes.af

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have a sigar

https://www.sigar.mil

~~~

Los Angeles Times

May 03, 2019

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It has become a journalistic game of sorts: Keeping a running tally of President Trump’s half-truths, untruths and outright lies. That game is not without entertainment value. Yet arguably at least as interesting and perhaps more instructive are the genuine truths that go essentially unnoticed, not only in the media, but also among elected officials and the general public.

A case in point: For years the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a watchdog known by its initials — SIGAR — has sought to inform Congress and the American people about the nation’s progress (or lack thereof) in the Afghanistan war. Those efforts, in my estimation, qualify as heroic. They have also been largely ignored.

SIGAR’s 43rd quarterly report, published Tuesday, offers a veritable trove of facts, an example of what can easily be mined even in an era of fake news. Among its notable findings:

According to the most recent estimates, the Afghan government “controlled or influenced” no more than two-thirds of the total population. No available metric suggests that Afghan forces are winning the war, even with the support of some 14,000 U.S. troops and several thousand private contractors.

~

Today

no real peace movement exists

despite the fact that the United States is

permanently at war.

~

Enemy-initiated attacks — an indicator of which side holds the tactical initiative — are increasing, up by 19% over the previous reporting period. An average of over 2,000 such attacks occur per month. Put simply, the bad guys act and the good guys react.

Total Afghan civilian casualties and civilian war-related deaths have increased by 5% and 11%, respectively, over the previous year. During that same period, casualties sustained by Afghan security forces jumped approximately 31%. The number of noncombatants killed or wounded by coalition airstrikes, most conducted by U.S. forces, is also on the rise.

The Afghan National Army is currently at only 83% of its authorized strength. Worse, its ranks are shrinking, calling into question the long-term sustainability of the force.

According to SIGAR, Afghan military morale and commitment remain problematic. For example, a U.S.-based program to train Afghan pilots was simply dissolved when over 40% of the student aviators went AWOL.

For years now, the United States has sought to reduce the prevalence of corruption in Afghanistan. Yet even today SIGAR describes corruption in the Afghan military as “pervasive” and notes that the government in Kabul “has not demonstrated that it is serious about combating corruption.”

Since 2002, the United States has invested $9 billion in counter-narcotics programs, to no avail. “Afghanistan remains the global leader in poppy cultivation,” the report says. While the 2018 Afghan opium crop did fall slightly from its all-time high the previous year, that decrease was primarily attributable to drought.

A legitimate Afghan economy barely exists. The nation’s total merchandise exports in 2018 fell well short of a billion dollars. At present, foreign grants account for approximately 70% of all public outlays, making the government in Kabul essentially a ward of the international community. Afghan democracy is likewise on life-support, with presidential elections originally scheduled for last April twice postponed “to implement voting-system reforms.”

Meanwhile, with most Afghans facing acute food insecurity, SIGAR reports that some households have resorted to selling their children or forcing them into childhood marriages in order to survive.

All in all, this makes for a dismal picture. For many months now, U.S. commanders in Kabul and senior officials in Washington have described the war in Afghanistan as “stalemated.” SIGAR’s latest report suggests that such a judgment may be excessively optimistic.

While not explicitly stated, SIGAR’s bottom line is this: Having over the course of nearly 18 years expended some $900 billion to create a secure, stable and democratic Afghanistan, the United States has failed. Indeed, those ambitious objectives have long since become implausible, with SIGAR noting that the current U.S. war aim is simply to promote “reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.”

“Reconciliation” is a euphemism, a way to repackage failure as magnanimity. With only intermittent press attention, the Trump administration has been energetically courting the Taliban, hoping to negotiate a peace deal that will allow U.S. forces to withdraw once and for all. In this context, “peace” is also a euphemism. The exclusion of Afghan government representatives from those talks speaks volumes about whose interests are being served.

One day, perhaps sooner than later, the American war in Afghanistan will end, with Trump no doubt seizing the moment to nominate himself for a Nobel Peace Prize. At that point, SIGAR will close up shop, shipping its detailed and voluminous reports off to some archive to collect dust.

It’s a safe bet that Trump doesn’t care a whit about what will happen in Afghanistan after U.S. forces pull out. Yet the truth is that the majority of his countrymen don’t seem to care either — even as the war the United States initiated in 2001 goes on and on.

When I was a young man, members of a then-vigorous, if naive peace movement were known to remark, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?”

Today no real peace movement exists despite the fact that the United States is permanently at war. A different maxim pertains: Suppose we had wars and nobody bothered to notice?

~~~

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University.

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https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-bacevich-afghanistan-war-congress-20190503-story.html

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https://www.sigar.mil

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senator travels eyes wide open

~~~

by Troy Turner

Opelika-Auburn News

April 18, 2019

~~~

Alabama’s Sen. Doug Jones, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, warns that ISIS is making every attempt to reorganize, including an increased recruitment of women and children, and that a continued U.S. presence in the Mideast region is critical to America’s national security.

The ISIS movement also is working hard to recruit college students, especially those with computer and technology skills, the senator said.

Jones returned stateside late Tuesday from an overseas trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he and two other Democratic senators met with American military commanders, troops and political leaders, among others.

“ISIS has not been defeated,” he said. “Our mission has not yet been accomplished.”

Jones, speaking on a media call Wednesday morning, described new concerns about the tactics ISIS is using to rebuild and restructure its militant organization and spread its radical ideology.

“The number of women and children being recruited is quadrupling the number of fighters. We cannot rush out of there quickly,” he said.

“ISIS is recruiting out of universities. It is trying to recruit in the information age, and trying to recruit more women. It is still a very, very serious threat,” Jones said.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the senators said they detected a sincere effort with new hopes that peace talks can find some type of compromise in a country ravaged by decades of war, including discussions on the rights and safety of women.

Jones traveled with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

“When I met with the women leaders, they talked about what they were hearing,” Shaheen told reporters during her travel. “They wanted to see a cease fire, they wanted the fighting to end. They wanted to make sure that women continue to have rights.

“To hear the amount of peace activity that was going on in the country was surprising to me.”

However, it’s also still too early to consider pulling troops from that country as well, Jones said.

“Afghanistan has a 40-year history of war. We’ve been there for 18 years. I think people are ready to have peace,” he said regarding his hopes that talks can be successful.

American military commanders, however, also remain convinced that U.S. national security interests dictate that troops continue their mission, at least for now, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jones said, adding that he also met with troops from his home state of Alabama while visiting the two countries.

“I was happy to thank them for their service and sacrifice,” he said. “It was a very powerful experience” to meet and talk with them.

Regarding their mission so far from home, and the long duration of America’s involvement in both theaters of operation, “People have to understand that that’s where most of the terrorism around the world originates,” Jones said, “and now it’s become more sophisticated.”

He said he was moved by the dedication of all the American service personnel he met, from troops to commanders.

“They fully believe that their mission is to protect the United States, not just Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “I think that everyone there believes that their mission is not complete.”

Seeing it first hand, he said, “it all sinks in a heck of a lot more than just sitting and hearing someone speak at the capitol.”

~~~

https://www.oanow.com/news/auburn/alabama-senator-describes-the-war-front-in-iraq-afghanistan/article_e2834cb8-6143-11e9-8b93-bb7bbbe445de.html

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